The Earth's magnetic field is crucial to life on the planet. It keeps out harmful solar winds, which would strip away our atmosphere and surface water and bombard us with radiation if left unchecked. A new analysis of zircon minerals suggests that the field originated at least 4.2 billion years ago – a hop after the planet formed in the geological timeline, and much earlier than previously thought.
Ever since the late 19th century, people have experimented with making textiles from natural-source-based gelatine, as a cheaper and less allergenic alternative to wool. Although the emergence of synthetic fibers largely put an end to that, a new technique may yet allow gel-based yarn to see the spotlight. The fiber is said to have an insulation quality similar to that of Merino wool, and the collagen used to produce it can be obtained from waste at animal-processing facilities.
Laser engineers in Japan claim to have set a new record for firing the world's most powerful laser, with a peak power equal to a thousand times total world energy consumption. It conjures images of a real-life "Death Star" laser, but could actually help unlock the mysteries of the universe.
Researchers from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) are taking inspiration from nature in the search for new materials that could one day be used to create body armor. The study, supported by the US Air Force, focuses on the unique structure and strength of the hexagonally-scaled shell of the boxfish.
Amplifying light a few hundred times with magnifying lenses is easy.
Amplifying light by altering the resonant properties of light itself is a much
more difficult proposition. However, if recent research by engineers at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers is anything to go by, the effort is
well worth it: They claim to have constructed a nanoscale device that can emit
light as powerfully as an object more than 10,000 times its size.
New research predicts it is possible to create a material with a new record-setting melting point that would have a good chance of staying intact, even at the insane temperatures in places like the outer edges of Earth's core. Computer simulations run by a team from Brown University find that a precise combination of hafnium, nitrogen and carbon would have a melting point of 4,400 kelvin (7,460° F/4,127° C).
Deep learning has already had a huge impact on computer vision and speech recognition, and it's making inroads in areas as computer-unfriendly as cooking. Now a new startup led by University of Toronto professor Brendan Frey wants to cause similar reverberations in genomic medicine. Deep Genomics plans to identify gene variants and mutations never before observed or studied and find how these link to various diseases. And through this work the company believes it can help usher in a new era of personalized medicine.
A new kind of conducting fiber developed at the University of Texas at Dallas is being used to develop artificial muscles and capacitors that store more energy when stretched. The fiber, which is composed of carbon nanotube sheets wrapped around a rubber core, may one day also find use in morphing aircraft, stretchy charger cords and exoskeleton limbs, along with connecting cables for a wealth of other devices.
Radiation generally comes under the heading of "things you want to stay away from," so it's no surprise that radiation shielding is a high priority in many industries. However, current shielding is bulky and heavy, so a North Carolina State University team is developing a new lightweight shielding based on foam metals that can block X-rays, gamma rays, and neutron radiation, as well as withstanding high-energy impact collisions.
Radiocarbon dating is one of the great tools of science that has allowed archeologists to shed new light on everything from the building of Stonehenge to the beginnings of international trade. However, a new study from the Imperial College London suggests that fossil fuel carbon emissions may be so diluting radioactive carbon isotopes that within decades it will difficult to differentiate between modern artifacts and those over a thousand years old.